Will the Iran question actually turn out to to be a much better wedge issue for Obama than Romney? There’s good reason to think so. Steve Walt notes that outside the Beltway, he hears very little enthusiasm for an attack on Iran. Recent polls show that that while support for an Iran strike is not negligible — roughly 40 percent, versus 50 opposed — there is no evidence for war fever.
According to the ABC News/Washington Post poll, 55 percent of Republicans apparently support American airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear program as opposed to 36 percent of Democrats and independents. I read these as pretty good numbers for Obama. The administration’s rhetoric against Iran is strong, and the economic sanctions are being ratcheted up. I can’t imagine any Democrat or independent not voting for Obama because he isn’t tough enough on Iran. (A handful of “Henry Jackson admirers” have long since gone over to the GOP.)
On the other hand, loud voices will be trying to turn the Republican Convention into an Iran war fest — at a time when only 55 percent of GOPers support an American strike. Marco Rubio (according to my sources, for what they’re worth, Romney’s likely veep choice) has said we need to prepare the American people for war against Iran. Romney has said again and again that he will defer to Bibi Netanyahu, and Bibi of course will be happy to hold Uncle Sam’s coat if war breaks out.
But the Iran war fever is very much a beltway driven thing — while it has infected a substantial majority of Republican elites, it appeals to a much smaller majority of Republican voters. It is instructive to contrast to the 55 percent of GOPers who support a war with the 86 percent who oppose Obamacare. I would surmise that if only 55 percent of GOP voters support a war against Iran now — after years of threat mongering by the big engines of the conservative media — an electorally meaningful number will sit out the election or cross over to Obama if it becomes more clear that a Romney victory means war. And since most of Romney’s foreign policy advisors and the neoconservative publicity machine actively pine for a war, it will more or less impossible for Romney to pivot and present himself in Nixonian style as the balance of power peacemaker.